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Could A Smartphone App Help Boost Memory Recall?

1 month, 1 week ago

3305  0
Posted on Jun 11, 2024, 1 p.m.

A smartphone app called HippoCamera developed at the University of Toronto may help to consolidate our memory, according to a study published in PNAS. This app is designed to benefit those with memory impairment by imitating the function of the hippocampus as it helps to consolidate memories, and it involves recording life events and replaying them to help lock them in as memories. 

Unfortunately, our ability to remember life events declines with age, and those with memory impairment are particularly affected by this. It is believed that the hippocampus repeatedly replays memories to the brain at high speed to help stabilize them for long-term recall. This study suggests that some people with memory impairment may be able to successfully reinforce their memories using a smartphone-based app that mimics this behavior.

According to the researchers, those with memory impairment who used the app for two weeks experienced a 56% increase in their ability to recall details of events recorded with the HippoCamera app. To add to this, those who used the app for 70 consecutive days experienced an 84% increase in their recall abilities. 

Why memories are important

Strong memories are important because much of who we are has to do with our lifetime of memories. Memories are perhaps the most lasting possessions that we acquire. Memories constitute the experiences upon which we base how we interact with other people and the World every day. 

Those with memory impairment have a much harder time when trying to navigate the World. This is brought on by having less confidence from the loss of ability to recall how it works. Those with memory impairment may even lose a critical aspect of their identity by forgetting who they have been, leading to a sense of isolation from friends and family. 

“If you can better recall a specific moment from your recent past, you will have a stronger mental bridge between your present and past self,” said study lead author Dr. Chris Martin, a cognitive neuroscientist at Florida State University.

“We also hope that it will get people into the habit of focusing on their memories, and to understand that there are lots of simple things we can do to preserve our memories for the events of our lives,” said senior investigator Prof. Morgan D. Barense, a cognitive neuropsychologist at the University of Toronto.

Testing memory recall

While developing the app, several memory recall experiments were conducted. In the first group of these experiments, study participants recorded five 24-second clips of everyday life each day for two weeks using the app. As each event was captured, an eight-second audio description describing the significance of the event was also recorded. 

The participants received reminders from the app to replay six previously recorded events each day over a period of two weeks. During playback, text appeared on the screen stating how much time had passed since the recording and the recording date. After this viewing, the video then began to play at triple speed to imitate the hippocampus playbacks which was accompanied by the recorded description of the event, played at normal speed. 

In a second group, a similar experiment was conducted that was designed to better represent the real-world, self-guided use of the app.  However, in this trial, participants only recorded one event per day, and replayed one event each day, for a period of 10 weeks. 

Evaluating the app’s effects

After the experiments testing memory recall, memory tests were conducted in which the participants viewed their clips as their brains were monitored using fMRI technology and compared their scores to baseline testing from the beginning of prior experiments. 

The fMRI scans showed that as the events were replayed, the participants experienced increased activity in their hippocampus and that there was a positive correlation between the degree of activity and the number of details the participants were able to remember.

The participants were tested again with fMRI scans for memory recall three months after each experiment. For this testing the participants had no access to the app and had to rely on their memories. 

In these tests, those in the first experiment scored better than they had immediately after using the app, going from 55.8% to 58.9% improvement compared to baseline scores. However, those in the second group had decreases in scores, going from an 83.8% initial improvement to 56%. 

Why it worked

“Hippocampal replay is thought to underpin memory consolidation and make memories stable in the long term,” said Prof. Barense.“With HippoCamera, we are hoping to stand in or prompt hippocampal replay, so that memory for these events can be preserved.”

“The science behind this application is solid — the investigators used a rigorous experimental design and analyses to support their claims, and to link the cognitive memory effects to neural changes in the hippocampus, a brain region that is known to play a key role in memory retrieval,” said Prof. Daniel L. Schacter, psychologist and researcher of cognitive neuroscience of memory at Harvard University, was not involved in the study.

The app playback is designed to be as evocative as possible “..watching HippoCamera cues brings back memory for so much more than what is shown in the video,”  Barense noted “..emotions, who was there what happened next — all that extra information will flood back in as well.”

Schacter said that although the memory of events outside of the app remains uncertain, “enhanced recall of experiences that are reactivated using the app should make a meaningful difference in the life of a forgetful individual.”

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. Additionally, it is not intended to malign any religion, ethic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

Content may be edited for style and length.

References/Sources/Materials provided by:

T.W. at WHN

https://www.psych.utoronto.ca/

morgan.barense@utoronto.ca

https://hippocamera.com/

https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2214285119



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